How to Deal with an Abusive Relationship with a Parent?

I always had an abusive relationship with my father. Maybe it all started with my conception. While my father only wanted one child, my mother wanted two. To make her dream reality, she secretly stopped taking the pill and became pregnant again. She betrayed him. Her story was that my father went on holidays alone shortly after I was born. How does a man feel if he becomes a father of a child he never wanted? I cannot answer this, but the abusive relationship became an important theme in my life.

My parents separated when I was one and I saw my father two years later again. The following two decades, I was torn between my infantile need to be approved by my father and rejecting him because of his manipulative personality traits. When I was 12, I cut contact with my father for the first time. His badmouthing about my mother’s family had become too much.

I saw him again when he got married to his new wife a couple of years later. Deep in my heart, I hoped that this new relationship had transformed him and he would have stopped blaming my mother. I was wrong. Nothing had changed.

My mother died when I was 19, and I hoped that her death would put his mind at ease, sooner or later. The little girl within me wanted to get his approval. Eight years later, his torrent of hatred against my mother and her family persisted. It was unbearable to listen to him any longer. His stories never changed.

Does a daughter have the right to cut contact with her father?

At that stage, I wasn’t sure. My father’s favorite bible quote was “You have to honor your father.” He used it each time when he wanted to impose his opinion on me. Sometimes I asked myself silently, and a father – how is he supposed to treat his child?

One day, I finally woke up and accepted that I would never receive affection from him. He was unable to give it. I was sick and tired of his repetitive stories and his unforgiving attitude. I cut contact with him. It wasn’t easy or comfortable, but it felt right. It was not for his sake, but for mine. Even though, I didn’t know it at that time, it was one of the most caring acts I ever did for myself.

Do you have the right to cut contact with your parents?

I faced many opinions. Abusive relationships are still a secret nobody wants to talk about. Some people looked at me disapprovingly; a couple of counselors told me that I had to meet him and hug him to be able to forgive him. In a way, they gave me the responsibility for his unhealthy behaviour. Other therapists approved my decision and told me that I had to find the right distance to be at peace with him. I only felt at peace when I was far away from him. My last therapist told me that she felt glad that I stayed away from him. I felt the same.

Who knows what’s right or wrong?

Each opinion reflected the perspective the other person had, their story and their values. It is hard to accept that families, the place where children should be safe, sheltered and nurtured, can be violent and harmful. I guess that many people who grow up in a healthy environment have no idea how a family with abusive relationships look like. How much did they know about my experience and my inner process that led to my decision? Not much.

My father continued his abuse by stalking me

Years after I cut contact, I still had a secret address so that my father couldn’t find me. But one day, he did. I called a police officer from the victim’s department, and she phoned him. Later, she told me that he would insist on having the right to see me. She asked me whether I would be willing to do so. I said, no. I just wanted to have my freedom. She continued: I have many years of experience with victims of violence. I know that you have every reason to fear him. It was the first time that somebody outside my family confirmed my truth about him, and her comment helped me to believe in my intuition and release my doubts. Unfortunately, blaming the victim is still part of our society, and it was a relief to hear the words I needed most: I believe you. It is not your fault.

Dealing with an abusive relationship as an adult

We can’t choose our family and, as a child, we get used to accepting what is. However, as an adult, as an adult we choose how we want to relate to them. We are not obliged to stay in a situation that is toxic for us. Everybody has the right to find the distance we need to protect ourselves and we have the right to cut contact. I cannot tell you what the right answer is for your specific case. But I invite you that you trust your inner voice because the only person who knows the correct answer is you. You don’t owe anybody an explanation. You don’t need anybody’s approval. The only thing you need to do is to take care of yourself.

What to do if the abusive relationship had ended?

After ending the abusive relationship with my father, I started a different journey: Healing the effects his emotional abusive behaviour had on me. I gave myself the space to forgive and heal my heart. I grieved that I never had the father I truly wanted as a child. While I never want to have a connection with him in real life, I can accept that he is my father. As long as I rejected him, I also rejected parts of myself. In a spiritual way, he’s now closer to me than he has ever been in my life. Sometimes, the best option to love somebody is without having a relationship with them.

Whatever decision you are facing, I know that you will make the right choice for yourself and your life.

Do you need support making this decision? Check out how I can support you.

Do you want to find out more about the abusive relationship with my father? Find out more about my memoir A Brave, True Story on amazon.ca.

Natalie Jovanic

Natalie Jovanic is a Registered Therapeutic Counsellor and Shiatsu Therapist. As a counsellor, they pass on what they believe in, but it isn’t just knowledge, theory, and professional experience. It is also their wisdom gained through their own transformative journey of healing abuse. Natalie is trained in trauma-informed practice and EMDR. They are the author of A Brave, True Story.